Blood At Sundown
As had been happening to him a lot lately, especially during a long wait, he dozed off. It occurred to him that he could not keep his eyes open even while talking to people; this had become a habit, like the sudden, menacing hunger that frequently stung him somewhere in his stomach, which would churn till he shoved something down his throat. My body, he thought, has become a gangling, all-bone truck stuck in the middle of a mud road.
Though he felt his heart get stuck somewhere in his throat when he sent his business card inside the Boss saheb’s chamber, in the air-conditioned comfort of the waiting room he felt a little dreamy. It had taken a great deal of effort to get a referral from Mr Afzal, whose nincompoop son he was tutoring for a despicable fee. Besides this, he had a job, a strange job, for which he had to run to the office every morning clean-shaven, clothes creased, shoes shining. On days he was late for meetings he would scamper to the last row, head down, waiting for the manager's rebuke. Maruf Khalil, the manager, had quickly gone up the ladder through discipline and hard work. He would look at him through the corners of narrowed eyes and say, “So, what made you late today?”
“In two months you could not get a single client, and Kabir saheb has been working here for only a month and he has finished three assignments. Listen, I'm giving you one more week, okay? If things do not get better, you will have to quit. Have I made myself clear?”
He had once so desperately looked forward to this, to having a proper job. Things that he had done when he finally got one were no less than astonishing - plodding over footpaths of the city to get a decent set of clothes, and, he remembered, how the money he spent on them cost him days' worth of meals.
Maruf saheb himself was quite a dandy, all crisp and starched. The slightly accented Bangla that he had, he made up with his clothes, the shine in his shoes and the cut of his shirt. He remembered Maruf saheb advising him, “Those who are beginning a career in insurance must remember that you need to be smart. This is a cut-throat world where you produce or perish. Do or die. If it is too much for you, you should not think of a future in insurance.”
The do-or-die thing he understood well, but only if that meant getting a client. That Kabir had created quite a stir in the office, getting one client after another, as though he had secretly found Aladdin's lamp. He, on the other hand, went door to door, begging… “Sir, dear sir, imagine once, imagine only once things that will happen to your family when you die. How will your young wife feed herself and the kids? Whom will she turn to for help? Make a policy, sir, when the time is yet ripe.” No-one had listened to him, the people whom he went to to sell a policy. Their attitude surprised him; as if through their refusal they were surrendering themselves to their fate, as though they were subtly telling him who the hell was he to take their responsibility. God would take care of everything when they left the world. Let it be, he would tell himself, may you live happily a hundred years, and here I am getting screwed. This boss saheb, whose office he was in now, was his last resort. The man was rich; he would be able to fill an island with all his wealth.
And it took him a while to gather himself when the call came from the boss saheb's room. A soft sheet of icy-cold air enveloped him as he looked at the flabby bald man inside, who, sunk deep in his chair, was intently scrutinizing sheaves of paper on his table. Without looking up he said, “What do you want?”
“Mr. Afzal of Shetu Limited has sent me…”
“Sir, the thing is, you are a business tycoon. I do not have the boldness to take the liberty and give suggestions to you on matters of money.” (Here his heart sank.) “But, the thing is, money-matters are entwined with the question of future security. For this reason, sir, we need to be careful about it. No-one can rule out the possibility of a sudden death. Our company has a fantastic policy; I can elaborate on it to you if you allow me, sir.”
“Oh, you are talking about life insurance! I do not need this, I am doing something important now. You can leave.”
It was late afternoon when he went out. The heat was soft, but the air was a little humid. It had rained in the morning; now a slice of cloud hovered in the western sky, telling him that it might rain again in the evening. Roads in this part of the city were always a little empty. The guards who stood at the entrances to different houses wore faces of indifference. In a few minutes an irresistible urge to empty his bladder nudged at him. It came to him that he could have done this in the office of the bald head, but at that time he had felt downcast at not being able to sell the policy. He had bee a strange person indeed, that bald head! That bald head did not even let him talk! You smartass! You will understand the importance of insurance one day, perhaps when you grow more bald, and two or three blocks have been found in your arteries…then going back and forth from hospital to hospital in Bangkok and Singapore, you will lament not having an insurance policy. One day, like a dried <>koral<>, you will lie flat in one of those mortuaries waiting for your sons and daughter to come from abroad to see your dead, blackened face. You will understand everything then. Making him wait an hour and a half and then… Tut-tut.
He thought of sitting somewhere to read the letter his father had written to him after hearing about his job. The two-page thing very subtly but unmistake-ably hinted at the need for money to buy medicines for his mother, for Minu's marriage, which had been delayed for so long - now that he had a job, they could start looking for a husband for his sister all over again. He only skimmed through the rest of the letter. An unknown anger clutched at his heart: Why do they expect so much from me? What do they think I am? An incarnation of Kamdhenu? Do they think I am that mythical cow Kamdhenu, who, like magic, will flood the world with an ocean of milk? Father, don't you know your son is useless? This is not a job that I have. I am holding a glassful of hemlock, let your son drink from it, he wants to die peacefully.
He toyed with the idea of peeing at the foot of the bridge, but gave up the idea after seeing lovers sitting in twos, who, it seemed, would leave the place only after dusk. On the other side of the road, another set of people sat with packets of peanuts in their hands; some were sitting on a makeshift scaffold, fishing. In another corner, under the comforting shadow of a tree, young boys were playing soccer. No place was left for him to open his pants zipper and pee. He felt like a pot-bellied frog, he would burst on this open street.
Hunger gnawed at him again, and along with it came an overpowering urge to empty his bowel. The sight of a mall gave him relief. It was newly built; its façade was masked with expensive, imported glass. Inside, there were rows of stylish shops. At each door a keeper was standing, eager to usher him in. He, however, did not notice anything; he scampered to and fro from one corner to the other, and, while going up the stairs, he almost knocked a Barbie-like manikin down. It smiled mechanically and waved at him, as though it, too, had been praying for a safe defecation. He then entered a barbershop, but seeing a woman-barber and the strange looks of her clients, he left it in a hurry and came across a shop that dealt in computer accessories. The man at the counter took him for a client and said, “We have a 25% discount on every product, sir.”
“Excuse me, is there any toilet nearby?”
The computer-seller turned gloomy. He answered, “It is on the fourth floor, on your right.”
He thought he had been given back his life. He jumped the staircase, and once on the fourth floor, it did not take him long to find it. Like Archimedes, he cried out, I got it, I got it…Eureka! Eureka!
At the end of this long wait a tear of relief came down his eyes. But: the secret chamber was nailed from inside, it was too difficult for him to open up. The more he tried the harder it became. Everything created a perfect setting for blood and gore; like droplets of blood, the tears were now running down his cheeks. He did not have the will or the energy left to move, as though, the city, like the toilet-bowl, was stuck to his arse, from which came down a clump of twining tendrils which would rope him to this world of brick and concrete. He could not free himself; he would have to remain stuck to the toilet till the last drop of blood left his body.
By evening, the city would be stained with blood.
artwork by dhrubo eash
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